“Imagine your life, wholly untouched by angst. What if faith, not fear, was your default reaction to threats? If you could hover a fear magnet over your heart and extract every last shaving of dread, insecurity, or doubt, what would remain? Envision a day, just one day, where you could trust more and fear less.

“Can you imagine your life without fear?”

For many years, my answer to this questions has been, “no”.

If there were an Olympic sport for worrying, I would be a Gold Medalist… just ask my family. “Oh my gosh Mom, if I don’t check in with you within 5 minutes of when I’m supposed to, you immediately think there’s been an accident.” “Honey, just go to sleep. It’s going to be fine. You worry all the time.”

In fact, last spring was really tough. I was taking some prescription medicine to help me sleep at night and come to find out, one of the side effects was: anxiety. I was having chest pains and my heart was thumping out of my chest. Should I go to the ER?

(Having had these same symptoms a few years ago – and now realizing I was on Ambien then, too –I did go to the hospital and they said I was having an anxiety attack.) So I was pretty confident that these symptoms were history repeating itself. But it was still scary.

I prayed a lot. “Please Lord, take these feelings and symptoms away. My head knows you’re in control of all things, but my body is feeling otherwise!”

After I stopped taking the medication, although I didn’t get much sleep, the anxiety decreased dramatically.

Still, the worrying plagues me.

Just for the sake of brevity, I’m going to cut to the chase and tell you two things that have helped me.

First, my friend Mike Hyatt wrote an excellent blogpost called Worry and Imagination: Two Sides of the Same Coin?

After reading it, I began to be able to not get sucked into the anxiety provoking image that was in my head, but step back from it a bit and look at it as an “imaginative scene”. Then I could be more objective about it and evaluate the likelihood of its occurrence.

Then, I just finished Max Lucado’s new book, Fearless.

Now, I was hoping that Max would just lay out the simple formula on how “not to be anxious for anything” and I would be “cured”.

But actually what he gave me was much more valuable.

He took me to a place, where I could wrestle honestly with my core questions… if God loves me, and He loves the world, why do bad things still happen? And do I really trust God with my life and the lives of those I love? Is there really a plan where “all things will work together for good?”

Yes, I knew there wasn’t a simple formula to make it all better. But, particularly in the discussion guide, Max gave me tools to make my worries “concrete.” He helped me focus on the One who says to the wind, rain and thunder, “Peace. Be still.” and all is quiet.

Does it mean that bad things won’t happen? Of course not.

But it does mean that I can trust the God of the universe with my life, my worries and my imagination.

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by Robert J. Kowalczyk, Ed.D.

Robert J. Kowalczyk

At age 62, after a long career in the nonprofit world in America, I decided to take early retirement and spend my retirement years traveling around the world. As a retirement gift to myself, I spent the month of January 2003 traveling around parts of Asia (Sri Lanka, the Maldives Islands, and Thailand). As a special retirement treat, I booked my airline seat in business class for that long journey to Asia and my return to my home in Minneapolis.

At the end of my month’s retirement holiday, flying from Bangkok to Minneapolis, I had to change planes in Tokyo. As the flight was called, I decided not to fight the crowd trying to board and waited until final boarding. When I headed to my assigned seat I found it occupied. A flight crew member checked my ticket and the other passenger’s ticket and discovered that a computer error had in fact assigned the two of us to the same seat. Since there were no other seats available in business class, I was told to wait while a flight crew member checked to see if there was a seat available in first class. I could tell by the expression on the flight crew member’s face when she returned that she did not have good news for me. I was told first class was also full and my only option was a seat in economy class. I was offered an apology for the inconvenience and a free business class ticket for future travel. I accepted the offer and headed to my newly assigned seat.

When I made my way to my newly assigned seat, once again I found it occupied by another passenger. The other passenger checked his seat assignment and discovered that he was in the wrong seat and moved. I then settled into my seat for the long journey home. My seat mate, a Chinese man, leaned toward me and said, “I was just getting to know my seat mate, and now I have a new one.” That was the beginning of a long conversation, and a friendship, over the many hours it took to fly from Tokyo to Minneapolis. The man’s name was Dr. Xiuwen Wang. At that moment, little did I know that he would become my new boss in China.

Dr. Wang, educated in America, had lived in Ohio for the past 15 years. He recently had returned to China to serve as the principal of a newly constructed K-12 private boarding school in Yangzhou, PR China. Dr. Wang was on his way to Ohio to collect his family to return to their new home on the school campus in Yangzhou. When he told me of this wonderful new school for which he would be responsible, he did so with great passion and enthusiasm. I recognized immediately that he was a man of great vision and had a commitment to educational excellence. I discovered in our lengthy discussion on that airplane that we had a great deal in common relating to the education of children, whether they were students in America or in China. I in turn shared with Dr. Wang my past professional experiences and educational background (I have a Doctor of Education degree in Educational Psychology and Special Education). Before landing in Minneapolis, Dr. Wang had convinced me to come to Yangzhou to join his educational team of skillful school administrators and teachers, a decision I have yet to regret. So in August 2003 I packed my bags and headed to Yangzhou, PR China to serve as Dr. Wang’s assistant principal for what I thought would be for a one-year period. In addition to assisting Dr. Wang with various administrative duties, my main responsibility is to oversee a large group of international teachers of English. That one year has now grown to five… and only time will tell if there will be a sixth year.

Robert J. Kowalczyk at work

Being an American working in China, sharing my professional expertise in education, is truly a privilege. It provides me with an opportunity to know and appreciate the rich Chinese culture. I am often overwhelmed by the warmth and friendship that is extended to me by my many new Chinese friends and colleagues. Qiao He, which means “a meeting of fate,” was truly a blessing upon me, one that has changed my life forever.

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Perspective on My Aging Mom

by Karen on May 19, 2009

Ky in ChinaMy mom has always been an amazing woman… strong beyond belief, sharp as a tack, and more energy than a roomful of Energizer bunnies! No kidding, my dad had a stroke when he was 53 (his left side was paralyzed) and my mom took care of him single-handedly for almost 22 years until he died. For all intents and purposes, she had no life besides caring for my dad. She never considered that there was any other choice.

Mom’s of that stereotypical Midwest-Norwegian farm heritage… up at the crack of dawn, get done what needs to be done as quickly as possible and don’t stop ’til you drop. She took care of my dad (never herself) from sunup to sunset, day after day, year after year.

After my dad passed away, my mom cried and grieved for about a year and then the butterfly emerged from the cocoon. She sold the house and moved into a retirement community as one of the youngest members. She made new friends, traveled the world, and was in charge of just about every volunteer activity you could imagine.

That’s why it’s so hard for me to wrap my arms around my mom now (figuratively speaking, of course). It was about two years ago that my bright, energetic, superwoman mom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

Her onset of Parkinson’s was gradual at first. She would fall on occasion (I was with her when she fell and hit her head while traveling in China and Spain, which was really scary in foreign countries!) and she complained about feeling stiff all the time.

She had a slight tremor in her hand but, still, the diagnosis came as a shock.

The doctors put her on medication to slow down the progression of the disease but it slowed her down, as well. That, and the fact that her body is just plain worn out after years of taking care of my dad…

This is so not what I expected.

This sounds tacky but I always sort of expected that one day we’d hear that my mom just keeled over and was gone. Simple, quick and fast—just like my mom.

But actually, these days she’s looking more like the other, non-Energizer bunny—the one who just slowly winds down and painstakingly stops running.

I don’t know if it’s the Parkinson’s, the medications, or a combination of both, but my mom is acting very differently these days. She falls frequently, needs a wheelchair often, and is getting confused with details more and more often.

And quite honestly, I haven’t been doing so well with that. When mom says something that is off the mark, I get irritated; not all the time, but sometimes she says things that are so out of character, I am shocked. Then I hear myself talking to her with a tone of voice that is appalling and I hate how exasperated I sound when I respond to her.

I have been trying to figure out why I get so irritated with her. The conclusion I’ve come to is that it’s an issue of my expectations: I expect my mom to be “her old self” and when she isn’t, it makes me sad and hurt and frustrated and angry, all at the same time.

I miss my mom, the way she was. I miss her quick wit and her humor that got her through so many really, really tough situations. I miss her spunk and her tenacity and her perseverance in the face of challenging adversity (let’s just put it this way, my dad was a great guy but would never be nominated for sainthood!). And I miss the person who emerged from that cocoon of self-sacrifice to enjoy living life with a zeal that was a pleasure to watch as I saw her get back some of the “quality of life” that she had missed for so many years.

I know intuitively that Mom hates being in the position she is now. She doesn’t like needing to be the one being “cared for.” She has always been the caregiver so this is a new role for her. And one she wouldn’t have chosen if she had a say in it.

So it’s time for me to emotionally be okay with letting her be who she is now, the same person only in a very different stage of life. It’s time for me to pause and differentiate between my mom in my memory and my mom today with Parkinson’s (she can’t change her Parkinson’s and neither can I—even though we both would want to).

And, most of all, it’s time for me to remember that each day with her is a gift, because no matter what, she’s still my mom and that, I would never change.

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Natural Beauty in Colorado

by Karen on May 7, 2009

Shavano MountainI was visiting with friends in the mountains of Colorado and had the opportunity (notice I didn’t say pleasure!) of hiking up to this beautiful waterfall. There’s something profoundly moving about seeing God’s beauty in nature, particularly when we drove up most of the way and walked down!

I had time during our walk back down to the cabin to catch up with my dear friend, Katya, who was visiting from Russia. She provides orphan care and shared what has been going on in her life since I last saw her in Moscow.  Beautiful scenery and a time with a good friend… spectacular!

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The Noticer by Andy Andrews

by Karen on April 27, 2009

thenoticer I’ll be the first to admit that I love good romance stories — stories that tug at my heart and transport me to another place and time. I love stories of people who, like me, are looking for love and end up finding it right in front of them. But most of the time, those stories entertain me but don’t touch me deeply. Those stories make me happy momentarily but usually they just create a longing for more romance stories.

That’s why I’m hesitant to call Andy Andrews’ new book, The Noticer, a romance story, but in fact, it is the ultimate romance story because it does what truly good stories are supposed to do — they satisfy you deep in your heart and make you long to be a different and better person because of the story.

The Noticer is about the power of choosing to change your perspective. It chronicles the lives of a handful of individuals and their encounters with a man named Jones, who just keeps showing up and helping them to see things from a different point of view. Jones somehow knows things he shouldn’t know about the people he runs into and then he invites them to see their lives differently and create a different outcome for themselves. One of those people he has an encounter with is the author, Andy Andrews. Andy’s life is changed in ways he never would have imagined.

As I started reading, I kept wondering if this were a “true” story. I’ve read other books of Andy’s and so I know the front of the stories is at least “somewhat true” (that sounds like an oxymoron!). But after reading the book, I decided that I actually don’t want to know. Because what makes it a great read is that it doesn’t matter… it feels like it could be true and that inspires me to think differently about people (and situations) I “randomly” meet along life’s way, not unlike Andy and the other folks in The Noticer.

The Noticer is a quick read… but I realized when I was finished that I wanted to read it again. Because I knew that if I read it again, I would read it with a different perspective. And that’s what a truly good romance should make me want to do.

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The Essence of Spring

by Karen on April 16, 2009

Blue flowersLiving life to its fullest sometimes means stopping to notice the little things at our feet. These sweet, little blue flowers are growing all along the side of my yard. Since I am not a gardening person (philodendrons in the house are about all I can do!), I am very grateful to the dear person who planted these in my yard many years ago. (I don’t have a clue what kind they are so if you recognize them, please let me know!)

Even as the tornadoes blew through middle Tennessee last week, these little flowers just bent with the wind and rain and then perked up when the sun came out. I think that’s the essence of Spring and there’s something encouraging about that…

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Springtime in Franklin – My Pink Dogwood

by Karen on April 13, 2009

Pink Dogwood

Pink Dogwood in my front yard

We were having a lovely lunch on the porch this afternoon when a man pulled up to our front house and asked if he could take a picture of our pink dogwood tree. He had never seen one (he had some sort of a foreign accent) and I thought it was a great idea! For my friends in the cold north, here’s a little sunshine and springtime to send your way!

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Easter in Franklin

by Karen on April 6, 2009

blog-easter-2 Happy Easter!

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You Just Can’t Make This Up…

by Karen on March 31, 2009

(This is a true story that happened when I was a child. I always wanted to send it in to Reader’s Digest for the “Laugh” section because I think it’s too funny!)

Some relatives from the Midwest came to visit us in the DC area and were eager to go to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania where the famous Civil War battle was fought.

At the time, a visitor center contained a room sized “electric map” laid out on the floor that demonstrated with colored lights the various troop movements during the battle. (This was pre-technology days – the map was pretty much paper mache with little Christmas lights placed in sections that would light up at different times to show where the troops were and how they moved during the battle.)

Having been there before with guests, our family found the electric map very useful in helping to understand how the battle took place in 1863.

We were standing in line to get in, when all of a sudden, the door banged open and an indignant woman pushed her way out and with a loud voice of disgust said, “Well, that certainly wasn’t worth the money. It’s the same damn thing every year!”

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Hindsight: Steve Jobs Looks Back

by Karen on March 16, 2009

images1

Commencement address by Steve Jobs

CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios

delivered on June 12, 2005

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first six months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.
And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out, I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the seven miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand-calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something-your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky-I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents’ garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation-the Macintosh-a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down-that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the Valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me-I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the world’s first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful-tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything-all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure-these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma-which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called the Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand, not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and Polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of the Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. Thank you very much.

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